Aging is an inevitable part of life, and it often comes with various physical and cognitive challenges. However, there exists a remarkable group of individuals known as “super agers” who seem to defy the conventional aging process. Super agers are men and women who maintain exceptional physical and mental vitality well into their later years.
What is a Super Ager?
Individuals who are over 80, but have the cognitive functioning of someone much younger than them–perhaps 50 or 60 years old–are sometimes referred to as “super agers.” Super agers are men and women who maintain exceptional physical and mental vitality well into their later years.
Understanding the Brains of the Super Agers
Most brains change rather significantly as they age. In 2015, researchers at Northwestern University imaged the brains of about 400 elderly people and found 35 super agers in the group.
They found that the outermost layer of the brain–the cortex–usually shrinks as we get older. Scientists believe that this shrinkage results in a decreased capacity for learning and memory. However, super-agers showed very little shrinkage. The imaging of the brains of super-agers closely resembles scans of people in their fifties.
Another region of the brain, the anterior cingulate supports the ability to pay attention. In super-agers, this region is as robust (and in some cases actually bigger) than people much younger.
Correspondingly, these super-agers have better memories, are more optimistic, and are more capable of learning than their elderly peers. Additional research suggests that super-agers have more “cognitive control,” which is the ability to maintain emotional control in a stressful learning situation.
Nature or Nurture? What Makes You a Super Ager?
The phenomenon of becoming a super ager may involve a complex interplay between both nature (genetic factors) and nurture (environmental and lifestyle factors). It’s unlikely that super aging is solely determined by genetics or lifestyle but rather a combination of both.
14 Things You Can Do to Improve Your Chances of Being a Super Ager
While genetic factors may provide a certain baseline for health and longevity, it is likely that at least part of being a super ager is due to the capacity to shape your own aging experiences through lifestyle choices, environmental factors, and personal attitudes. Our choices and environment likely have a profound impact on how we age.
Let’s explore 14 habits and lifestyle factors that are proven to help you age better, if not superbly.
1. Manage stress
Stress actually damages the brain. It is linked to cognitive impairments, particularly in memory and concentration. And, while we can not always avoid stress, we can train ourselves to deal with it in positive ways.
Super agers tend to handle stress effectively. They often practice stress-reduction techniques like meditation, deep breathing, mindfulness, or other stress-relieving habits and practices which help keep their mental state balanced and contribute to longevity.
Have financial stress? A proven way to manage it is to address the problem. Use the NewRetirement Planner to assess where you really are and develop a plan for doing better. Take ownership of your financial situation and you’ll build confidence, reduce stress, and build financial security.
You have probably heard of the adage that you don’t really know something until you can teach it. This is because being able to explain something requires a deep and organized understanding of the subject.
You can improve your brain function by slowing down and really learning things: learning them well enough that you could teach the subject.
3. Maintain healthy relationships
Maintaining a robust social network is a key secret of super agers. Regular social interaction provides emotional support, reduces stress, and combats feelings of loneliness and isolation, contributing to overall mental well-being.
Scientists believe that the large size of the human brain is due to the fact that we are social beings. We have big brains because we need to organize a great deal of complicated information in order to maintain social connections.
It, therefore, follows that maintaining good relationships with friends, families and even pets can keep our brains healthy. Furthermore, Harvard Medical School reports that strong relationships can result in less stress which can impact your brain as well as body.
Psychiatrist Dr. Amy Banks says, “When we feel warmly–safely connected to others–only then do our neural pathways get the stimulation they need to make our brains calmer, more tolerant, more resonant and more productive.”
4. Eat the right foods
A balanced and nutritious diet is crucial for super agers.
If you want a healthy brain, it may be best to eat things that are particularly good for you. Super agers prioritize whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats while limiting processed foods, sugar, and excessive alcohol consumption. Antioxidant-rich foods like blueberries can help protect our brains from stress. Broccoli has high levels of vitamin K which can specifically aid memory. Healthy fats like olive oil, coconut oil, and avocados support brain health too.
Here is a list of foods for a healthier brain.
5. Play games
Games help keep our brains healthy in a variety of ways. They are fun, which reduces stress. They create social connections. And, they are exercise for the brain itself: use it or lose it.
Super agers have brains that age differently. Their brain scans often show thicker cortical regions, which are associated with cognitive functions like memory and attention. Engaging in mentally stimulating activities like games may contribute to this resilience.
6. Keep learning
Super agers share a passion for lifelong learning. They engage in activities that challenge their minds regularly, such as reading, taking a class, or teaching themselves new skills. Continuous intellectual stimulation helps maintain cognitive function and mental sharpness.
Learning new skills gives your brain the ability to generate new connections, making it bigger and better functioning.
7. Slow down, pay attention
Memory is a key component of brain health.
If you want to remember something, give yourself time. Whether you are learning something new or trying to remember something from a long time ago, if you slow down and really process the information, you will improve your brain function.
Also, try to engage all of your senses when learning and remembering. Think about smells, tastes, sounds, and touch and you will have greater brain capacity.
Physical exercise is not just good for the body, research shows it can also change the brain. Regular aerobic activity boosts the size of the hippocampus, the brain area involved in verbal memory and learning.
Activities like walking, swimming, or yoga, keeps your body in good shape, promotes cardiovascular health, and contributes to overall vitality. However, active hobbies like gardening or cooking that keep you moving and on your feet are proven to be as effective if not better for health than traditional “exercise.”
9. Preventative medicine
Super agers are proactive about their health. They schedule regular check-ups with healthcare providers, allowing for early detection and management of any health issues that may arise.
10. Adopt a positive attitude
A positive outlook on life is a common trait among super agers. They maintain a sense of purpose and optimism, which can have a profound impact on overall health and longevity.
For example, research from Johns Hopkins expert Lisa R. Yanek, M.P.H., found that people with a family history of heart disease who also had a positive outlook were one-third less likely to have a heart attack or other cardiovascular event within five to 25 years than those with a more negative outlook.
Researchers suspect that people with a positive attitude may be better protected from the inflammatory damage of stress.
The Mayo Clinic cites research that the health benefits of positive thinking may include:
- Increased life span
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress and pain
- Greater resistance to illnesses
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke
- Reduced risk of death from cancer
- Reduced risk of death from respiratory conditions
- Reduced risk of death from infections
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
11. Embrace change and challenges
Super agers often welcome new challenges and embrace change. They view life’s ups and downs as opportunities for growth and adaptation, maintaining a sense of curiosity and resilience.
A positive attitude toward change and challenges can significantly impact the brain by promoting problem-solving skills, reducing stress, enhancing neuroplasticity, fostering emotional resilience, strengthening relationships, and optimizing stress hormone balance.
12. Get adequate sleep
Super agers understand the importance of quality sleep. They prioritize getting sufficient rest, which not only rejuvenates the body but also aids in memory consolidation and cognitive function.
Various research has shown that regularly sleeping less than five hours daily or more than nine hours raises the risk of death. One study discovered that a night of partially deprived sleep caused participants’ blood to show signs of deterioration in the cell’s growth and division cycle which casually links sleep deprivation to the molecular processes associated with biological aging.
13. Optimize your ability to hear
There is a direct connection between hearing and preserving cognitive function. Research has shown that hearing loss can have a significant impact on cognitive abilities, and address hearing issues can play a crucial role in maintaining cognitive health.
If you can’t hear, you miss out on a lot of information, social connection, and opportunities to learn. You lose touch.
For people who are experiencing hearing loss, you may want to prioritize getting and wearing a hearing aid.
14. Maintain a financial plan
Does this tip surprise you?
Planning your retirement is a task that can help your brain function in a variety of ways. Having a solid retirement plan is proven to reduce stress. It engages your brain in a complicated exercise which can help build neural connections. And, you can learn new things.
The NewRetirement Planner makes it easy to start planning your retirement.
Furthermore, if you are a super-ager and will lead a long and healthy life, you will need a good financial plan to pay for those many happy years.